Operations will be guided only by constitutional, legal provisions – GECOM

GECOM Chair (Ret'd) Justice Claudette Singh

In light of the APNU/AFC’s recent calls for the voters’ list to be cleansed, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has contended that it will only act by the Constitution of Guyana and legal provisions.

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton has been pushing to have a clean voters’ list, which he maintains is “bloated.” He has also threatened to boycott and block future elections if this is not done.

But GECOM explained in a statement on Friday that while it is cognisant of those concerns, it cannot act contrary to the legal provisions enacted in the National Registration Act (NRA), Chapter 19:08 – something which it says has been extensively ventilated at the meetings of the Elections Commission.

The NRA dictates the procedures for the registration of eligible persons and likewise the removal of any such person from the National Register of Registrants Database (NRRDB), from which the existing Preliminary List of Electors (PLE) was extracted. The voters’ list or Official List of Electors (OLE) is established from the PLE.

“…It is not that the concerns of stakeholders about the PLE are being ignored, but GECOM must act within the framework of the Laws of Guyana,” GECOM said.

The Elections Commission reminded that the eligibility requirement for registration is that one must be a Guyanese citizen by birth, descent, or naturalisation; or a citizen of a Commonwealth country living in Guyana for one year or more. Once persons have met those requirements and have been registered, their registration is and remains legal. It follows that any removal of their names from the NRRDB, without a legal basis, would be unlawful and unconstitutional.

Existing legislation provides that the removal of names from the NRRDB can only be done through the legal methodology which includes the receipt of monthly reports from the General Register Office (GRO) or through an Objections process; which allows for any elector, or suitably accredited scrutineers of political parties, to object to the inclusion of names in the PLE whom they suspect may not be eligible. However, the burden of proof would be on the objector to present at the time of the relevant hearing(s) to substantiate the objection(s).

Currently, GECOM is conducting a Claims and Objections exercise that started this week and will run until mid-September.

Moreover, the electoral body further pointed to the August 2019 ruling of Chief Justice (ag), Roxane George, in the matter of Christopher Ram vs Guyana Elections Commission about the House-to-House Registration exercise in 2019. In that decision, the CJ ruled that “for the names of persons already registered to be removed from the list of electors, they would have to be deceased or otherwise become disqualified but the failure of registered persons to be present or resident during the House-to-House exercise would not be such a disqualifier and such a person’s name can only be deleted if they no longer meet the qualifying criteria under Article 159(2) or become disqualified under Article 159 (3) and (4).”

Justice George further ruled that “GECOM would have no legal authority to remove or deregister such persons who are otherwise qualified unless such registration can be cancelled under Section 8, which provides for cancellation of registration, or in the Claims and Objections period under Section 15 of the National Registration Act and the Regulations thereto.” The Chief Justice concluded that if GECOM is to act outside of those legal provisions, “it would be unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.”

According to GECOM, it is of crucial importance to mention that the decision of the Chief Justice was not appealed, and, therefore, only by way of the enactment of legislation can persons’ names be removed from the NRRDB.

To this end, the Elections Commission is reminding persons that the ongoing Claims and Objections exercise allows for all eligible persons to make a claim to be included in the OLE and provides the opportunity for all those persons who are already registered to check the accuracy of their registration records in the PLE that is posted countrywide in every Registration Division/Sub-Division. Accordingly, any such person can apply for changes/corrections to his/her registration particulars on or before September 11, should this be required.

Additionally, the Commission is also strongly urging persons to scrutinise the PLE, and object to the inclusion of the names of persons, whom they suspect may not be eligible for such inclusion, on or before September 15. Original documentary evidence must be provided to support the objection by the law.

Nevertheless, GECOM further stated that it remains resolute in its vision, “to maintain and further develop the capacity to conduct credible registration; General, Regional and Local Elections which enjoy the confidence of all Guyanese and meet international standards for elections”.

This statement by GECOM outlining the laws it operates under comes on the heels of Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, earlier this week calling on the Commission to clarify to the public, and more so the APNU/AFC, that it cannot remove the names of persons from the voters’ list at the whim of its leader.

Last week, GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh told reporters that everyone on the voters’ list is legally there. She added too that if indeed the list is bloated as alleged by the Opposition, then the ongoing Claims and Objections exercise can be used to contest names and have them removed.